Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Stork Naked

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Stork Naked (2006)
Surprise Golem is at home in the Golem home, babysitting the two 10-year-old half demon children Demon Ted and DeMonica.  [Surprise has appeared in a few previous books, most notably “Up in a Heaval”.  As I note in my review of that book, “Golem” is her family name, not her species.  Surprise is human.]  Her husband Umlaut and her parents Grundy and Rapunzel are away looking for a home for the new family – Surprise, Umlaut and the baby Surprise is expecting.  Also present is the pet peeve, a green parrot-like bird, who previously appeared in the book “Pet Peeve”; it is constantly insulting everyone, and had finally found a home in the Golem household, happily exchanging insults with Grundy.

Surprise has all possible talents, but each one can only be used once. But she has learned that for each magical action there are an infinite number of ways of doing it, so her magical ability is effectively unlimited.

Surprise is expecting a baby.  A stork called Stymy turns up at the door with a bundle containing the baby.  He asks Surprise some questions, but then concludes that Surprise is only 13 years old, and is not eligible to receive the baby.  Surprise insists she is 18; she was delivered to her parents at the age of 5.  But the stork flies away again, taking the baby with him.

Ted suggests she go to see Good Magician Humfrey.  Surprise agrees, but realises she must take the two children with her.  She magically creates a basket, they all get into it, and she conjures it to the Good Magician’s Castle.  Then she realises the peeve had come along with them.

They enter the castle and meet Wira, the Good Magician’s daughter-in-law.  She escorts them to the Gorgon, the Good Magician’s current Designated Wife, who has cookies and soda pop laid out for the children and birdseed for the peeve.  The peeve and the Gorgon exchange friendly insults; they remember when the Gorgon had rescued the peeve from Hell (as described in “Pet Peeve”).

Wira escorts Surprise to the Good Magician.  But the Good Magician wants to dissuade Surprise from asking her Question; apparently she would be getting into a nasty situation.  But Surprise insists: she wants her baby back.  So Humfrey tells her she must go to the Stork Works with Che Centaur.  Surprise does not need to perform a Service (in payment for her Answer); the mission is sufficient.  And she must take the children and the peeve with her.  Humfrey has contacted the children’s parents and they agree; Ted’s mother Demoness Metria and Monica’s father Demon Vore appear at this point to confirm this.

But Metria insists on going with them.  But Humfrey says that only two adults can go; the rest must be children, animals, crossbreeds or other.  Metria transforms into one of her alternate personas: Woe Betide, a 5-year-old waif, with matches which bring a person their heart’s desire.  When she still insists on going, Humfrey opens a vial of vapour which locks her into that form.

Surprise and her companions are escorted to where Che, the winged centaur, is waiting.  When he hears about their mission, he understands how it ties into his mission.  The Simurgh (that huge bird who is the wisest creature in the universe) has also gone missing.  She must have gone to the same place as the baby.

Outside the castle, Surprise transforms into a female winged centaur, and carries Monica and Woe Betide, while Che carries Ted and the peeve.

As they fly to their destination, Che tells Surprise that the Simurgh must have gone to an alternative universe.  There are an infinite number of alternative universes, many not much different from their own.  A fissure had opened between universes; the Simurgh had gone to investigate, but had not returned. Fissures do not normally occur, so the stork must have delivered the baby to the same other universe.  He would have been in a hurry to deliver to a suitable couple, and would have returned before the fissure closed.  And he would have delivered the baby to an alternate Surprise and Umlaut in that other universe.

But Che thinks it is too remarkable a coincidence that the fissure opened just as the stork was trying to deliver the baby.  Maybe someone deliberately stole the baby, and it may not be that easy to get it back.  This may be why Humfrey regarded the mission as so serious.

They arrive at the Stork Works.  They present themselves to the information office, which is attended by Stifle Stork.  Surprise tells him how her baby had not been delivered.  When Stifle hears the name of the stork, Stymy, he says Stymy messes up a lot and is on probation.  Surprise tells him how she herself had been delivered 5 years late, so her age should be recognised as 18. Stifle refers the matter to the supervisor.  And Stifle sends for Stymy, and orders him to go with Surprise to correct the situation.  The fissure had closed, but the Stork Works has access to all universes.  It is a matter of finding the right one.  Che says they will need the Reality Mask.  This is in the possession of a fiery nymph on Lion Mountain.

So the group sets off, flying to Lion Mountain, with Stymy Stork flying with them.  Stymy tells them all the kinds of things that can go wrong in the baby delivering business, and the management aren’t very forgiving.  He tells of one case where the parents had summoned the stork, but by the time he  delivered the baby girl, Azalea, 9 months later, the parents were no longer in that location, so he had to leave the baby amongst the flowers, to be brought up by flower fairies. He checks on her every now and then.  She is now 15 years old.

Che tells them they can’t fly over Lion Mountain.  Sometimes it is Lion Mountain which is peaceful but sometimes it is Mountain Lion which snaps at things flying over it.  They will have to land at the base and walk up to the nymph Pyra’s castle at the summit.  Stymy says there is another problem, but he can’t remember what it is.  They should land and ask Azalea, who lives in this location.

They land and find Azalea nearby, and explain their requirement. She says the mountain is surrounded by love springs; a person who comes in contact with the water falls in love with the first person of the opposite sex they see.

Che and Surprise discuss it, and see no alternative other than wading through the love springs.  They are both married to other people and believe their spouses will understand the need.  Surprise can use a spell to nullify the effect after they are through.  The others will have to stay behind.

Azalea offers to babysit, but she asks that in exchange she can come adventuring with them.  Che and Surprise don’t want to take her on this dangerous mission.  Then Azalea explains that her twin sister Lotus has gone missing; going on an adventure may enable her to find her sister. (Stymy is surprised that Azalea has a twin sister; he hadn’t realised there were two babies in the bundle he delivered to this location.)  Surprise agrees to search for Azalea’s sister when they return.

So Surprise and Che wade through the love springs.  Surprise, who is still in centaur form, feels an intellectual attraction for Che, but not a physical or romantic attraction.  Che tells her he feels the same for her; centaurs are more rational and less emotional than humans.  They emerge on the other side, and Surprise decides it is unnecessary to nullify their feelings.  But later she starts to feel a physical attraction for Che and is ashamed to admit it.

They come to the castle and meet Pyra.  She is a fire nymph; she has the ability to project fire, or to flare with fire, and she wears a patina of flames on her body in place of clothes.  She invites them in.  She says they can’t have the Reality Mask; she is responsible for taking charge of it, and in any case they wouldn’t be able to use it; it has taken years for her to properly master it.

Pyra demonstrates the Mask’s use.  The Mask is a square frame, initially appearing blank.  Pyra tells it to show the scene where the stork came to the Golem household, and they see the scene playing on the screen.  Pyra points out that she had limited it to the current reality, but the Mask can show other realities, but it is necessary to mask out the conditions that do not apply.  She says she wants to come with them, as she wants to experience life and find a good man; she will operate the Mask for them.  Che points out that they are only allowed two adults on this mission.  But Pyra points out that Che can be counted as a crossbreed, therefore Surprise and Pyra would be the two adults.  So they agree that she can come.

So they return across the lake, with Pyra riding Surprise.  But then they discover that the others are missing.

***

While Che and Surprise are away, Azalea is trying to do a good job of babysitting, wanting to be recognised as a responsible young person on the verge of adulthood.

Then the ground opens up.  Azalea’s talent is talking to flowers.  She asks the nearby ones what it is going on.  They tell her it is the entrance to the Punderground; people who enter it do not come out.

A goblin emerges.  He says he is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds; he invites the children to enter.  Azalea, the stork and the peeve all try to object, but he casts a spell on them all, and they all go down the steps to the underground.

There are food and games for them.  But Azalea becomes concerned and leads the others away, trying to find a way out.  A flower in the wall tells her to take the Ness way.  There are several tunnels; she takes the one labelled “Another Fine Ness”.  The peeve tells her the Nesses are monsters; one of them had escaped to Mundania, where it is known as the Loch Ness Monster.

They find more signs labelled “Mad Ness”, “Good Ness”, etc.  Woe Betide says she can help; her matches can grant a person their heart’s desire.

Then Azalea sees a lotus petal next to the tunnel labelled to “Ugly Ness”.  Her sister had been here!  She leads the way down that tunnel.

They come to a pool containing a horrendously ugly monster.  She makes a deal with it: they will give it its heart’s desire if it lets them pass.  Woe lights a match, and the monster becomes fantastically beautiful for as long as the match is lit.  They all pass.

They come to a cavern full of quiet sullen children.  They say they are trapped here; the longer they stay, the more their souls are leeched.  The only way out is the Death Pool; children who give up, throw themselves in, and a whirlpool sucks them down.  Azalea finds her sister Lotus in the cavern; the reunited sisters hug each other.

But Azalea is determined to find a way out.  She finds out the other children’s talents, and works out a way they can escape via the Death Pool.  Her solution works and all the children escape to the outside world.  They find Che, Surprise and Pyra waiting for them.  Azalea, with help from the adults, organises to send all the other children home.

Now Surprise’s group sets off for the Stork Works again:  the three children on Surprise’s back, Pyra on Che’s and the two birds flying independently.  (Azalea and Lotus do not come with them.)

Despite what Che had said to Surprise earlier, he is feeling physically attracted to Surprise as a result of his contact with the love springs, a feeling that gets stronger as time passes.  But as far as he knows, Surprise doesn’t feel the same way.  But Pyra senses Che’s feelings.  She suggests that the way to make this feeling dissipate is for Che to make love to Surprise.  But Che rejects this idea.

They reach the Stork Works.  Surprise changes from a winged centaur back into a human woman; this will be necessary for when she gets her baby back.

A guide stork ushers them into the reality room; this is where they select the reality they wish to go to.  Pyra gets out the Mask.  She asks it to show the realities where a fissure opened between realities.  Six pictures are displayed, all showing a stork carrying a bundle towards a glowing rent in the sky.  Stymy can’t tell which is him.  But he will be able to tell which baby he had been carrying, because it will have his scent on it.  They will just have to check all 6 realities.  (In the narrative that follows, these realities are referred to as Reality 2 to Reality 7, their original reality being Reality 1.  The people belonging to each reality are referenced accordingly.)

They specify the first image on the Mask to the guide stork.  He directs them through a curtain.

Reality 2
This reality doesn’t look any different from their own reality and they are not sure they have moved.  Surprise is now in human form, so can’t carry the children, so it takes longer to get to the Golem household.  But there they see another version of Surprise (Surprise 2), holding a baby.  Surprise 1 has qualms about taking the baby from her.  She disguises herself magically so it will not be as much a shock when they come face to face.

The group comes to meet Surprise 2.  She recognises Che, since he has a counterpart in her reality; Che has to explain that he is a different Che, from another reality.  And then Surprise 1 removes her disguise, and they explain the situation to Surprise 2.  Surprise 2 says she would be unhappy to give up the baby (who is a boy), but will willingly do it if he rightfully belongs to Surprise 1.  But then Stymy smells the baby and says he is not the baby he had carried.

They are getting ready to leave, when Cynthia (Che’s wife, also a winged centaur) arrives.  But this of course is the Cynthia of Reality 2.  She is surprised to see Che there, but suggests they spend some romantic time together.  Che has to explain again that he is the Che from another reality.  Cynthia helps transport them back to the Stork Works.

They select the next image on the Mask and pass through the curtain.

Reality 3
The children are bored with going through the same routine, so Pyra suggests they can stay with her at the Stork Works, and she will show them historical adventures on the Mask. The peeve stays too.

Surprise rides Che as they follow Stymy through the sky. Che says he suspects that Pyra had deliberately arranged that the two of them would be alone together. They both confess their feelings toward each other, but agree not to indulge their passions.

They arrive at the Golem house. Surprise changes her hairstyle so she will not be immediately recognised. Surprise 3 comes to the door, and kisses Che on the mouth, and welcomes him in to spend a time of lovemaking. Before closing the door, she hands a baby to Surprise 1 for her to look after: but it is a tiny winged centaur foal! It seems that in this reality, Surprise is married to Che! Surprise 3 must have thought Che was her husband.

But at that point, the Che of this reality arrives out of the sky, and kisses Surprise 1; he obviously thinks she is his wife. In her confusion, she transforms into a winged girl and joins him in the sky; but then she tells him her story, including the illicit passion she and Che feel for each other.

Che 3 recommends that she and Che 1 indulge their passion; it seems that in this reality sexual conventions are freer than in their own.

He takes her to the home of another couple: Umlaut and Cynthia, who in this reality are married to each other. They generally agree with Che 3 – until Surprise embraces and kisses Umlaut 3, and then they are not so sure. They can accept the idea of free sexual relations until it affects them personally.

Che 3 and Surprise return to the Golem house and find Surprise 3 and Che 1 standing outside. Che 1 and Surprise 1 call Stymy (who presumably has been waiting nearby) and head back towards the Stork Works.

Che tells Surprise that Surprise 3 had come close to seducing him. But she had worked out fairly soon that he wasn’t her husband, and had been teasing him. Surprise tells Che her own experience with Che 3, Umlaut 3 and Cynthia 3.

But Che and Surprise, having become aroused by their experiences, are having second thoughts about whether to indulge their passions. They will continue to feel their urges until they do. And possibly what is not acceptable in their own reality is permitted here. They tell Stymy to go ahead, and they land in a pleasant glade.

Surprise resumes her natural form by banishing her wings, and the two of them embrace and kiss. But before they can go any further, they have a series of interruptions, as other people enter the glade. Then a man tells them this is Promenade Glade where young people meet. Obviously they are not going to get any privacy, so they return to the Stork Works.

Pyra selects the next reality.

Reality 4
This time the children want to come with them. Surprise transforms into a winged horse capable of talking. The children ride on Che’s back and Pyra rides on Surprise’s back.

Pyra tries to persuade Surprise that she and Che should indulge their passion. Surprise wonders why Pyra is persisting in her persuasion.

Pyra makes her confession – although her story is not completely true. She had dipped her toe into the love spring out of curiosity. And then a faun had come by and they had celebrated together. After that her desire faded. So she knew how powerful the love springs can be.

They arrive near the Golem house. Pyra says she will look after the children.   Che, Surprise and Stymy go the house. But in this reality Surprise had married Picka Bone, the walking skeleton: obviously their baby would be a cross between a human and a skeleton.

As they all return to the Stork Works, we learn Pyra’s thoughts. There is a Demon Bet in progress between Demon Xanth and Demoness Fornax, over whether Surprise can be corrupted. If she is, Fornax will win; if not, Xanth will win. It is a cruel game which it seems Surprise can’t win: if she refuses to get corrupted she will not get her baby back.

Stymy is Demon Xanth’s agent: if Xanth wins, Stymy will be promoted to Head Stork. Pyra is Fornax’s agent: if Fornax wins, Pyra will get to marry Che.

Because what she had told Surprise is partly true. She had dipped a toe in the love springs, but then gone home and viewed scenes on the Mask. And the first person she had seen was Che. So she is in love with him.

Ironically this means she must encourage Che to indulge his passion with Surprise. She hopes that this will result in him realising that his marriage to Cynthia is not sacred, which will free him up for her.

But none of the other participants must learn of the Demons’ Bet; this would result in the whole sequence being reset.

They arrive back at the Stork Works and move on to the next reality.

Reality 5
This time the children ride with Surprise and Pyra with Che. Pyra and Che discuss (treating it as an intellectual argument) whether Che’s passion for Surprise would be dissipated if he and Pyra walked through the love springs. But Che concludes it would not; it would just add another passion to his life.

They arrive at the Golem house. This time they discover that Surprise 5 had married Brusque Brassy (who in Reality 1 is Becka Dragongirl’s boyfriend – refer “Cube Route”).  So it is another wrong baby.

They return to the Stork Works.

Reality 6
In this reality, when they arrive at the Golem house, they find some kind of amusement park nearby. Pyra looks after the children while Surprise, Che and Stymy go to the house.

The children and the peeve rush into the amusement park; Pyra has to follow. But it proves to be something along the lines of a comic strip (a strip of land with various obnoxious puns): a series of objects and creatures appear, and they have to guess what pun they represent to get past. It soon becomes tedious, especially when they try to exit the park.

Surprise, Che and Stymy return; this time Surprise 6 had been married to Jot, Lacuna’s younger son.  It had been another false lead.  (Lacuna appears in “Dragon on a Pedestal” and “Question Quest”.  Jot and his sister Tittle appear in “Question Quest”, however I haven’t mentioned them in my review of that book.)

They return to the Stork Works and spend the night there.

Reality 7
This reality has to be the right one, as all the others have been eliminated. Surprise is still in her winged horse form; she carries Pyra and the peeve, while Che carries the others.

When they arrive at the Golem house, Pyra says she will look after the children. This time the peeve comes with Surprise as she, Che and Stymy approach the door. Surprise resumes her natural form.

First Surprise 7 comes to the door, but she won’t let them in; she closes the door in their faces. Then when they keep knocking, Umlaut 7 comes to the door, and he won’t let them in either. Both of them seem quite mean, not at all like their Reality 1 counterparts. They also seem to hate each other.

The peeve mimics Surprise 7’s voice, calling Umlaut back into the house. Surprise 1, Che and Stymy enter, and they find a crying baby girl. Stymy identifies her as the child he had carried.

But Surprise 7 and Umlaut 7 refuse to give up the baby, even though it seems they do not love her. Che argues that she rightfully belongs to Surprise 1, but Umlaut says the fact that she was delivered to them makes her theirs. Che admits that they need to negotiate a compromise.

Then the baby smiles at the peeve; it seems that she likes it, which is a new experience for the peeve.

Umlaut takes Surprise 1 into the bedroom, supposedly to talk. But instead he wants to have his way with her; in exchange he will persuade Surprise 7 to give her the baby. Confused, Surprise 1 lets him start to undress her. But when he kisses her, she realises he has no soul.

In “Up in a Heaval” Umlaut 1 had discovered that he had no real existence; and his soul was just an emulation. Surprise had given up her soul – half to Demon Jupiter and half to Demoness Fornax – to ensure Umlaut’s continued existence. But Jupiter and Fornax had not been able to bear having souls, and the associated consciences, and returned the half souls to Umlaut and Surprise respectively. Since then their half souls had grown into full souls.

But in Reality 7, Surprise 7 and Umlaut 7 had not had the half souls returned; their soulless state accounts for their meanness.

So now Surprise does not think Umlaut 7 will honour any deal she makes with him.

Umlaut tries a different tack.   He brings out a chest of miscellaneous objects, and offers her various things if she will leave without the baby. But she refuses.

They return to the other room to see Surprise 7 attempting to seduce Che. He is submitting passively, to prevent her harming the baby, but he is clearly not cooperating.

Then the peeve tells Surprise 1 (although Surprise 7 tries to prevent it) that Surprise 7 is actually Morgan le Fey, whom the peeve had encountered in “Pet Peeve”. Morgan is a Sorceress from ancient Mundania; in Reality 1 she is living on the moon Ptero, and wants to possess a woman’s body so she can live in Xanth.  But the Morgan le Fey of Reality 7 had possessed Surprise 7’s body, by arrangement with Demoness Fornax, who has some claim over Surprise 7 because she possesses half her soul.

But Morgan’s real intention is to take over Surprise’s baby’s body (the baby’s name is Prize) in the future; this is why she doesn’t want to give up the baby.

But when Che resolves to take the baby anyway, Morgan tells them she has sent an apparition to lure the children, Ted, Monica and Woe Betide, away from Pyra, and now they are lost. She will tell Surprise where they are if Surprise gives up her claim to the baby. It seems that Surprise has a choice: the baby or the children. But Che disagrees: they will find the children and come back for the baby.

Surprise, Che and the peeve leave the house, and meet Stymy who had been waiting outside. They see Pyra running towards them with the bad news.

Pyra had been watching the children when they disappeared. The ones she had been watching had been an illusion. The real children had separated from her earlier, possibly following an illusion of Pyra. She tried to follow their footprints, but they disappeared on hard ground.

The group decide to split up and search separately. They work out the 5 different areas to search: 2 nearby for Surprise and Pyra, who are on foot, and 3 further out for the 3 flying creatures, Che, Stymy and the peeve.

Stymy’s search
Stymy flies to his assigned sector and flies around searching the ground. Deciding he also needs to look for clues at ground level, he lands. A female stork approaches and asks if he had delivered an unlicensed baby in this area. When he admits he has, she starts attacking him and pulling out his feathers. He tries to explain, but she keeps attacking, saying this is her territory, and she had got blamed for it.

When he says it involves a Demon Bet, she stops. But now he has to explain. She apologises and directs him a healing spring, which turns out to be a mud puddle, so he gets all muddy. Then he has to wash in a clear river.

She introduces herself: she is Stymie – spelt with an IE. It seems she is his counterpart in this reality. And she is error-prone just like him, and is on probation. She says she will search for the children too.

She says she believes the contest is rigged. Whether Surprise gives up the children for the baby, or the baby for the children, she will be corrupted; she will regret the decision for the rest of her life.

Stymy describes the three children. When he mentions Woe Betide, she recognises her as the child aspect of Metria – there is a Metria in this reality too.

And hearing her name, Metria 7 appears. Like Metria 1, she confuses her words.

Metria takes the form of a stork, and the three of them fly around searching and asking people about the children. Then another demoness turns up: this is Mentia, Metria’s alter ego.  (In Reality 1, Mentia sometimes splits off from Metria and leads an independent life, at other times, they occupy the same body.  It seems that in Reality 7, the alter egos spend most of their time apart.)

But unlike her Reality 1 counterpart, Mentia has a similar confusion of words to Metria, except that hers relate to homonyms rather than synonyms. Mentia also takes the form of a stork and joins the search.

The search ends with no trace of the children. The two demonesses depart. The two storks spend some romantic time together.

The peeve’s search
The peeve flies to its assigned sector and searches, also asking people it meets whether they have seen the children.

It sees a hypnogourd vine, and wonders whether Morgan might have hidden the children within the dream realm. The peeve flies through the peephole of a gourd and enters the dream realm.

It flies around the various settings, asking the dream creatures if they have seen the children. It comes to a location where a bad dream is being acted out and filmed. A woman called Diana is being chased by various Mundane monsters and cruel men. The peeve asks her if she has seen the children. This interrupts the filming, and upsets the director. But then the scene freezes and the Night Stallion (the ruler of the dream realm) appears.

The Stallion tries to eject the peeve from the gourd realm, but discovers he can’t because the peeve does not belong to this reality. The peeve tells its story, and the Stallion asks what its motivation is for this search, given that the peeve seems to be a creature virtually without conscience.

The peeve realises that having been accepted by the Golem family, it cares about them, including the baby, Prize, who had smiled at it. Its attitude has changed in the time it has lived with the family.

The Stallion calls all the children in the gourd realm into a large hall. But none of them are the children the peeve is looking for.

The peeve exits the gourd and completes its search.

Che’s search
Che flies across his assigned sector, searching for traces of the children. He comes to a large lake and decides to take a drink, but then wonders if it is safe.

A creature emerges from the fog; she is some kind of crossbreed. She says her name is Chasta: she is half human, half demoness and half whatever. She is a shapeshifter. She tells him the water is safe and healthy; it is the Vitamin Sea.

Her talent is that she can see in fog. She leads him through the fog to the home of a centaur couple, Challenge and Chellony. They don’t know anything about the children. But they do know about a huge lost bird, the Simurgh.

Che contacts the Simurgh mentally, then follows the mind signal to where she is.

She says she hasn’t returned to their original reality because she can’t be sure of returning to the correct one. But she is depending on Che to locate it and enable her to return to it.

Che is destined to change the history of Xanth (refer “Heaven Cent”). He had assumed that this was because he is the tutor of the Simurgh’s son Sim; but could it mean that he would return them to a different reality?

The Simurgh says she cannot detect the children in this sector. But she has detected some creatures who appear to be from a different reality. Che should check them in case they are the children transformed. They are in an anthill.

The Simurgh transfers Che’s consciousness into an ant drone. An adventure follows where Che enters the anthill and tries to discover the identity of the foreign creatures. However they turn out to be ants from another reality, who had got onto the back of a stork by mistake and been transported to this reality.

The Simurgh transfers Che’s consciousness back into his body. She tells him to continue his mission. She would be in touch when their group is ready to go home.

Pyra’s search
Pyra searches the sector allocated to her.

She doesn’t like the direction the Demon Contest has gone, and she doesn’t like Morgan. But she will continue her role of being a helpful acquaintance to Surprise, and try to find the children. She no longer wants to corrupt Surprise, but is obliged to as Fornax’s agent. And she has given up on getting Che for herself.

She comes to an arch which is made of moonstone. The scene through the arch is different from what is around it. She researches such arches on the Mask, and discovers there are quite a few of them, all providing passage to different locations. The moonstone indicates that this one connects to one of the Moons of Ida.

She walks around the arch, and finds it is part of a bigger building, like a mausoleum. To travel to Ida’s Moons, it is necessary to leave one’s body behind, and travel as a soul. So the bodies of travellers must be stored in the building. But there is no way into the building.

It is possible the children may have gone through the arch to the moon on the other side. She has to go through herself to check.

After passing through, she comes to an amusement park with a sign saying Always-Always Land. She enters and wanders around the booths, asking about the children.

She comes to the booth of Finn the Amazing Fire-Eater. But Finn isn’t performing. She asks him why, and he says his talent is to breathe fumes, and he uses a magic sparker to light them. But his sparker has been used up. Pyra’s talent is to project fire, so she tells him to blow some fumes, and she ignites them. She offers to light his fire if he helps her look for the children. He agrees.

They decide the children are likely to have gone on the train ride called the Hell and Slimeballs Express. Finn and Pyra both sign on as guards: these are required because there have been accidents. The missing children aren’t on their own train, but along the way they will pass the other trains and she can check them as they pass.

The train goes around and around and up and down. There are monsters which menace the train – these are real monsters, but the tracks are enchanted to prevent them getting too close.

But then the engineer stops the train. The trestle which supports the track is unsafe. Finn and Pyra get out to inspect it, and discover a monster has bitten the trestle; it will have to be repaired. Pyra returns to the train to announce the delay to the passengers. The engineer and some of the parents volunteer to help. But the monster could still be nearby; Pyra will have to use her fire projection to ward it off. The men fetch planks and proceed to repair the trestle. But then a huge dinosaur turns up; Pyra has to keep fending it off with her fire.

They return to the train. Finn and Pyra are hailed as heroes. And Finn and Pyra realise they are in love with each other. The train completes its run.

Pyra invites Finn to come and live with her.   Finn is from one of the Moons of Ida; it will be necessary for Che to prepare organic material to be made into a body for Finn, so he can live on Xanth (as was done for the dragons in “Currant Events”).

They report to the supervisor, who tells them there have been no “real” children in the park (that is, children from the “real” world of Xanth), so the missing children mustn’t be on this world.

Pyra returns to Xanth.

Surprise’s search
Surprise searches her allocated sector.

She comes to the Gap Chasm. But the children, being a demon and half-demons, have the ability to float, so would not be in danger of falling into the chasm.

And the children are friendly with Stanley Steamer, the Gap Dragon. Except that that may not apply in this reality; they may have gone to him, expecting him to be friendly, only to discover he was not.

She uses her magic talent to float over the chasm, and locates the dragon. She floats down and speaks to him. But he shoots a column of steam at him. She goes through a series of transformations as the dragon continues to attack her. Finally she transforms into a female gap dragon, and is able to communicate with him.

The dragon tells her his name is Stefan (she had used the wrong name to address him), and he doesn’t know her. He hasn’t seen the children. He tells her that in this reality Ivy is married to Naldo Naga, who is king of the naga. Dolph is the human king and is married to Nada Naga.

Stefan breathes steam on an amulet, which sends a call to Nada. Soon Dolph arrives in roc form (he is a shapeshifter), carrying Nada in snake form. (The naga are a snake/human crossbreed, able to take either snake or human forms.)  Dolph and Nada transform to their human forms.

Surprise introduces herself and tells her story. They insist she comes with them to Castle Rockbound (which is Castle Roogna’s counterpart in this reality). Dolph, in roc form, carries them both.

Dolph organises a search for the children, and then asks Surprise to help them with something else. They had received a spell called the Guilt Trip as a wedding gift, but they need help to use it. The spell conjures a path which leads to a stone called the Punk Rock. The path forces those who walk on it to express their guilt, and if they can reach the end and touch the Rock, it corrects their guilt, and changes their reality retrospectively.

Nada opens a bottle and invokes the spell. A pattern appears on the wall, which becomes a scene showing a path through a meadow. Dolph walks through the wall and enters the scene. Surprise and Nada follow, and they all walk along the path.

Dolph tells his story, how he had been engaged to two girls, Nada, whom he loved, and Electra whom he had woken from an enchanted sleep, and who had to marry Dolph or she would die. But he hadn’t believed that she would die, and he had married Nada. And Electra had died. (This story parallels the events of Reality 1 told in “Heaven Cent” and “Isle of View”, except that in Reality 1, Dolph married Electra.)

Nada tells how Demon Prince Vore had been in love with her. But she had thought it was more advantageous to marry a human prince – that she could better control a young human, and she liked the idea of queenly power. And Vore had committed suicide. (In Reality 1, Nada had married Vore.)

Now Surprise must confess her own guilt, how she was imperious as a child, flaunting her talents. (Refer “Geis of the Gargoyle”.) Then she had forgotten to correct the record at the Stork Works, which had resulted in her current crisis. And she had waded through the love springs with Che, resulting in their illicit passion for each other.

Surprise approaches and touches the Punk Rock, stating Dolph and Nada’s names. Nada and Dolph must express their final guilt: Dolph felt he had betrayed his wife by believing that Electra would have been a better wife; Nada felt that she had betrayed her husband by believing that Vore would have been a better husband.

They return to the castle, and the effect of the spell becomes apparent. Electra and Vore are there, alive. Dolph is now married to Electra and Nada is now married to Vore.

Dawn and Eve arrive, saying they have searched the area for the children but have not found them.  (In Reality 1, Dawn and Eve are Dolph and Electra’s daughters.  Now this is also the case in Reality 7; they have only come into existence retrospectively as a result of the Guilt Trip spell.)

A ten-year-old girl who looks like DeMonica arrives. This is DoMinica, Nada and Vore’s daughter – DeMonica’s counterpart in this reality – and who has also come into existence because of the spell. She has asked Good Magician Humbolt (Humfrey’s counterpart) about the children. Humbolt’s answer is cryptic. He said the children had been transformed – not physically, they just don’t relate well now. It is necessary to go there and look the right way.

So they will have to continue the search.

The children’s experience
The narrative returns to when the children had become lost. Ted, Monica and Woe Betide go with Pyra to a patch of candy canes with jelly bean plants twining around them. Woe sees Pyra disappear.

She calls the others and they hunt around for Pyra, but can’t find her.  The version they had been with had been an illusion. Someone had wanted them to be lost. The path they had come on had disappeared.

They follow another path and walk along it. Then they realise it is a one-way path; they can’t go back.

A centaur called Elysia arrives. She tells them that all of the people in this place, which is called “the other realm”, are trapped here because they have offended the Sorceress Morgan le Fey, who is in possession of Surprise 7’s body. There is no way back.

Elysia has come to take them to the Prime Monister’s castle. The Prime Monister is a huge horrendous creature, but his castle is the only place they can be safe from the bloodhounds – the hounds that hunt for blood. Two other centaurs, Cassy and Caitlin arrive, and the three centaurs carry the children to the castle.

There are many children there; Ted, Monica and Woe meet them and get to know them. But Monica resolves to escape from this realm.

There is a scream. It is Cadence the winged centiger – like a centaur, but with a white tiger’s body. The Prime Monister has summoned her to be with him tonight. He takes maidens, but no one knows what he does with them; they don’t die, but they never speak of what happens to them. Cadence says she would rather leave the castle and face the bloodhounds than submit to the Prime Monister.

Monica talks to a girl called Sonya, whose talent is to figure out puns and challenges. She asks Sonya how to get from one realm to another. Sonya says you must look at things a different way – like seeing the spaces.

Ted, Monica and Woe get on Cadence’s back and she carries them out of the castle and back to where the three children first found themselves to be lost. They all try to look at things a different way, but nothing seems to work.

The bloodhounds approach. And then the Prime Monister himself appears, menacing Cadence and the children.

And then Woe figures it out. She imagines solid objects where there are spaces, and spaces where there are solid objects. She tells the others to get back on Cadence’s back, and tells them all to close their eyes while she tells Cadence which way to fly. And they find themselves back in Xanth.

***

Not having found the children Surprise returns to the starting point. The others of her party return, and tell of their searches, also unsuccessful. Stymy Stork is accompanied by Stymie; they are in love, and will stay together if that is possible. Pyra tells of her boyfriend Finn, and asks Che to prepare some organic matter so Finn can come to Xanth.

They return to the Golem house, and find Morgan outside, pinning up pictures of her familiars. The baby is there in a bassinet. Surprise tells her to free the children and keep the baby. Morgan tells her the children are now free. Che flies off to check.

Then Che returns, with Cadence and the children. Ted and Monica run forward. But Morgan casts a spell on them and the children and the centiger freeze. The peeve tells Surprise that it is a spell from Hell that freezes people, but also prevents them from speaking on a specific topic.

But Che is unaffected by the spell; the magic of the Simurgh protects him. So Morgan casts another spell, to make Che her love-slave. But Woe, who had been shielded from the previous spell, interposes herself and, because of her innocence, misunderstands Morgan’s command, and the spell becomes ineffective.

Morgan turns away in disgust and the spells dissipate. And Che says that since the children had freed themselves, Surprise’s agreement with Morgan is void; she may take the baby.

But Morgan takes the baby into the house. Surprise, with the peeve, Stymy and Pyra follow. A magical duel follows, with Morgan attacking with weapons and creatures. But the peeve recognises the moves – they are Standard Operating Procedure, which he had learnt in Hell, and warns Surprise and the others in time for them to defend against them. Surprise is able to rescue the baby.

But the baby disappears; Morgan had substituted an illusory baby – the real baby had been transported somewhere else. Morgan disappears.

They exit the house, and find that all of the children who had been in the other realm have been rescued. The children use their talents to help; one of them conjures an arrow to point to the baby, which is in the other realm.

Surprise, the peeve and Che follow the arrow and find the baby in a bassinet.

However Morgan is also there, and has another trick for them – she has dressed herself identically to Surprise, and Che must choose which version of Surprise is the correct one. But Che has prepared for this; with a bit of trickery of his own, all ends well and Surprise gets her baby back.

All of Surprise’s original party, plus baby Prize, Stymie and Finn, return to the Stork Works. The Simurgh is waiting for them; she transforms into a human woman called Serenity so she can fit into the reality room.

Pyra activates the Mask, and asks it to show their original reality. But 6 images appear. They will have to choose. At Che’s request Pyra orients on the throne room at Castle Roogna. They watch the scene and pick out things that are not true to their own reality. They proceed through the images until they reach image 5. This seems to be the correct one. Che wonders whether they should check image 6, but Surprise is anxious to get home. They pass through the curtain.

The Simurgh resumes her normal form and flies off. Stymy is greeted as Head Stork by another stork.  Stymy and Stymie depart together. Woe transforms into Metria, and takes the two half demon children home. Pyra and Finn head off to Lion Mountain. And Che transports Surprise, baby Prize, and the peeve back to the Golem home. Then he flies off to meet his wife Cynthia at their home.

Surprise meets her husband Umlaut at the door. But then she wonders: is her house facing the wrong way?

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